Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda gives an impassioned send-off in Tokyo on July 29 to the 330 Olympians who will represent Japan at Beijing 2008. D.Kitamura/AFLO SPORT
As Beijing prepares to present the biggest sporting event of the world, a similar buzz is brewing in Tokyo that grows stronger every day.
Japanese bookstores in the gilded shopping boulevard that is Ginza prominently display guidebooks entitled "Watching the Olympics Games in Beijing".
Taxi drivers are eager to share their knowledge of the Games upon learning that passengers are from Beijing. A number of cabbies have even been heard blurting out "Good Luck Beijing" phrases.
Young men and women, too shy initially to engage in conversation with strangers, start listing their favorite Olympic events and athletes as they work out at the city's Yoyogi Park Athletic Field.
Chinese celebrity hurdler Liu Xiang, a strong gold medal contender for the Games who won the 110-m hurdlers at the Japan Grand Prix in Osaka in May, is becoming one such household name in the sports-inclined Japanese capital.
At about 7pm on an early July day, the Yoyogi field, more commonly known as the Oda field among residents, is illuminated and crowded with about 400 people jogging, playing football or simply stretching out on the turf.
Reiko Nakayama took her first gymnastics class when she was in elementary school. In middle school, she joined a swimming club. Now a second-year university student, Nakayama jogs once a week at the Oda field.
"There are always a lot of people gathered here and you have a real sense of sports," she says.
A beginner of the Chinese language, Nakayama can already recite the phrase "Beijing huan yin ni" (Beijing welcomes you), the catchphrase of the Beijing Games.
Aside from tuning in to every match involving Japanese athletes, Nakayama says she will also try to keep an eye on Liu Xiang during the Games.
She is familiar with the star hurdler. In May, Nakayama got the chance to watch the Japan Grand Prix in Osaka, and she was impressed by how Liu eased his way to win the 110-m hurdles.
"It was really incredible ... he was like a whirl of wind," she says.
At the side of the Yoyogi track, Tsukasa Kouchiyama, 21, a fourth-year medicine major at Juntendo University, takes a 10-minute break.
Coming from a university known for its sports culture, Kouchiyama says he will be watching all the track and field events of the Games on TV. "All my classmates are into some kind of sport and we are all interested in the Olympic Games," Kouchiyawa says.
The slim, young man cheers the Chinese capital's opportunity to host the Olympics, but he is not shy about his own city's ambitions either.
"It'd be great if Tokyo can host the 2016 Games," he says.
"The world will get the chance to see Tokyo as a place that gives people a sense of security and peace of mind."
Indeed, the International Olympic Committee in June already selected Tokyo as one of the candidate cities for the 2016 Olympics, together with Chicago, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro. The final selection of the host city will be held in October 2009.
Arata Matsuura, 22, is also rooting for his city's bid to host the 2016 Games.
The fourth-year Chinese language major with Kyoto University of Foreign Studies is the champion of the Nanquan category - a Chinese martial arts style from the south of the Yangtze River - of a wushu competition last year.
He started learning wushu 10 years ago, and was first intrigued by warriors depicted in the popular Dragon Ball comic book series.
Wushu received a boost in Japan in July, when the 25th All Japan Wushu Taijiquan Championships were held for three days in the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Winners from each of the competition's categories are entitled to participate in the 29th Olympic Games Wushu Tournament to be held during the Beijing Olympic Games.
Wushu is not an official Olympic event yet, but a separate tournament will be held.
If Tokyo hosts the 2016 Olympic Games, Matsuura hopes that wushu will by then be made an official competition event.
According to his coach Hitoshi Tan-yi, wushu has been gaining steady support in Japan over the years. The All Japan Wushu Taijiquan tournament alone was first introduced 25 years ago.
Tokyo is known among aficionados and residents for its breathable parks, tree-lined avenues, shimmering rivers and quiet temple groves.
The green spaces make jogging in the metropolis one of the most popular sports.
On any given day, runners young and old can be spotted along the 5-km road around the Imperial Palace, one of the most popular jogging courses.
Haruo Furuuchi, 58, and Kenichi Komo, 47, have been jogging together around the palace once a month for five years. Former colleagues at an electric company, the two take 40-minute train rides to meet up for a 10-km run, before having their favorite Japanese noodles together for lunch.
In March, more than 2 million sports fans lined the streets of central Tokyo to cheer 32,000 participants of the Tokyo Marathon 2008.
As part of the proposed 2016 Tokyo Games, road cycling along a route circling the palace promises to be equally appealing.
During the Beijing Olympics, the Japanese Olympic Committee will also set up a Japan House at the Hotel New Otani Chang Fu Gong to hold exhibitions, hospitality services and other activities to present the innovative concepts of Tokyo 2016 and help people understand the many attractions of Tokyo and Japan.
Similarly, the Beijing Olympics will enable Japanese to experience the excitement of Olympic achievement and better understand the universal importance of the Olympic Movement, says Dr Ichiro Kono, chairman and CEO of the bidding committee for the 2016 Tokyo Games.
(China Daily 08/07/2008 page5)